2016 Zion 100m, I mean 100k
Back in January, when searching for an ultra race I found Zion 100 and noticed it backed up nicely to my kids’ school vacation. I convinced Scott that we should go and then spend some time in Zion. He moved some work around and I contacted my hydration pack sponsor owners, (UltrAspire) who is based near Zion. I asked for some advice on where to stay, eat, what to see. Melanie and Bryce Thatcher promptly offered us the opportunity to stay with them. We were psyched to stay with friends, and accepted.
My training leading into Zion was challenging. Just seven weeks before the race, I got very sick with the flu and bronchitis. The illness took me out for two weeks in the peak of my training cycle. I was still able to get a big running weekend in five weeks out but lost a lot of miles leading into that period. But, I stubbornly believed I could still make this happen.
We left Thursday morning from CT and arrived in Las Vegas mid afternoon to drive two hours to St. George unload and then drove another 40 minutes to the pre-race meeting and bib pickup. It was a long day and I was getting a bit nervous feeling rushed and unprepared.
Scott and I got up early the next morning. I had a hard time sleeping anyways. We got to the start in plenty of time, where I did my best to stay warm and chill out. The race went off at 6:05am with headlamps on and I got in a nice rhythm on some dirt roads. Scott headed back to pick up our cousin Danny, Shep and Dahlia. We began the climb up to Flying Monkey just reaching the top of the mesa as the sun came up. It was a fun six mile loop around the mesa before heading back down the same path which was my favorite part of the course. I went back onto jeep trails and then to Dalton Wash Aid Station which was listed at mile 15 on my course info but was really mile 13. I was ahead of schedule pace-wise but now also ahead of schedule because the milage calculations were wrong. I figured I would miss Scott, Danny and the kids and I was right. I filled up with water and took off, knowing they would be disappointed that they missed me, but I shook it off. Plus I had carried plenty of food.
We had a very long uphill dirt road through farm land to the top of the next mesa. Guacamole Aid Station was well stocked. I refilled water and headed out on the loop. The loop on Guacamole was a challenge to follow because it was mostly rock and there was no logical path. I stuck with a group of guys that were cracking me up with guacamole jokes which took my mind off of running for a while. Some of the trail was very close to the edge with beautiful views. There were quite a few mountain bikers up there. Back at the aid station, I grabbed some oranges and headed right back out on the dirt road. The sun was starting to peek out from behind cloud cover and the temperature began to heat up. I was starting to struggle a bit but knew that was part of every ultra.
It was fun to roll down into the aid station and hear Shep and Dahlia cheering. Shepard ran along side me into the aid station and I changed packs, used the bathroom, which was a composting bucket in a tent, and headed out. Looking back I probably should have stayed there a little longer to eat and drink, because after crossing the main road and getting onto another dirt road uphill I felt sapped of energy. I ate more and drank more, but it didn’t help. I walked a lot, jogged a little. That still did not help. Eventually I made it to the steepest climb on the course, 1,000 ft in less than a mile. Luckily I was with Steve LaBranche, a fellow Shenipsit Strider, for a while, and then chatted with Kelly Agnew on the entire climb. At the Goosebump Aid Station I grabbed more real food and continued out onto the Goosebump loop.
I was still struggling and it really started to bother me that after all the walking and eating that my energy was not coming back. I jogged and walked out to the Gooseberry Point Aid station where we had to do a short 1/2 mile out and back (we had to get a hole punch on our bib number as proof). On my way back, Steve was coming at me. He had gotten off course for a bit and ended up behind me again. We stuck together for a while and he was running stronger so he moved ahead until we bumped into each other once again. As we got very close to returning to Goosebumps Aid Station, I heard someone yell my name. It was Melanie and Bryce Thatcher, our hosts. They had driven up to cheer and take pictures. I let them know I was in a funk for the last four hours and was struggling to decided what to do.
I got into the aid station, sat down and thought hard about my choices. I still had 53 miles to go in the 100 mile. At this point the 100k runners go left and the 100 mile runners go right. I drank some veggie broth, soda and asked the volunteers if dropping to 100k was an option. Scott and I have talked about this many times. I did not feel I needed to DNF. I could still walk, but I could not fathom waking 53 miles. Uncharacteristically of me, I did not have the desire to go longer nor to spend the night out. I didn’t see my running legs coming back since they showed no sign of returning for the last 17 miles. I convinced myself that I should go on and turned right (onto the 100 mile course), running out with Steve. When I tried to run again my legs were lead. I promptly stopped, gave Steve and hug and wished him luck. I ran back to the aid station and declared my move to the 100k, turned left and started my 16 mile journey to the finish. Kindly, Melanie contacted Scott to let him know of my decision and to meet me at Virgin Aid Station instead of Grafton Mesa Aid Station.
The walk down the steep section was frustrating and inspiring. I was frustrated at my mental and physical inability to complete a 100 mile event and inspired by the people who were just coming up the steep hill. The perseverance and fortitude they demonstrated so may hours into the the race with so many miles to go was amazing. The trail leveled out onto the dirt road and took a left turn toward the aid station. Unfortunately, this section was all dirt road that winded and twisted it’s way through the dessert. My attitude was deteriorating and with no-one around I was left to ruminate on my decision and beat myself up a bit. To top it off I tried jogging again and promptly tripped, slammed my knee on a rock and rolled in the sand. I laid there for a minute, contemplating my challenges. For a moment I was upset, but then I remembered the beauty above me and around me. I dusted myself off and moved on.
After what felt like hours I saw a mirage coming toward me. It was calling my name and it wan’t a mirage, it was Danny. He had changed into running gear and ran out to greet me. I didn’t think he was going to run with me at all since he has the Boston Marathon in just over a week, but he is an ace crew/pacer and wanted to prod me to the finish line. We came into Virgin Aid Station. It was great to see the kids and to know that I was only eight miles to the finish. They fed me and changed my hydration pack. I put on my UltrAspire 600 lumen waist belt and threw on a head lamp. I put on my Patagonia Houdini jacket as well. As it started to drizzle we got back the trail. In a few minuted the skies opened up. The rain was cold and the mud turned to ice. I ran right in the center the trail in deep puddles. There was no way to stay dry and that was the safest way since your foot would slip down anyways. I got really cold and tucked my hands inside my jacket sleeves. I was running again and needed to, in order create heat. I thought about the 100 mile runners and the challenges that lie ahead. At that moment, I was happy that I made the decision to run less miles, but I knew later I would not be so content.
We were finally on single track again that weaved alongside a canyon with a 100 foot drop. Danny was so scared that I would trip or slip off the side. Just like a cautious dad, he kept reminding me to stay away from the edge. I was scared for the runners that would be coming through there at night. The lights did need to go on a few miles from the end. Danny is such a good pacer, that he kept me running and got me to the finish, completing those last eight miles in about 1 hour and 40 minutes. I placed 4th female and first 40+ female. It was disappointing to not finish what I set out to, do but it felt good to be able to go home at a reasonable hour to shower and get to bed. The kids were troopers, Scott is an amazing supporter, and Danny is an all-around super helper. No one can really know all the “hurry up and wait,” that they do, all the route finding, worrying and other challenges they face. It’s a really tough job and they do it because they love and care for me. I am truly blessed to have such a supportive husband and family.
Reflecting on the experience, I only wish that I had been better at evaluating my fitness and readiness and decided on a shortened distance before the start of the race. It bothers me that I did not complete what I set out to do. I was very lucky there was an option to drop to the 100k. In most 100 mile races, there is not. The flip side of that is “what if?” What if I did go on in the 100 mile? Maybe things would have turned around and I started running well again. Maybe I would have deteriorated further and needed to drop…..we will never know. But that’s life, right?
I want to thank my coach, Al Lyman, for going along with my crazy ideas for races and doing his best to get me ready for this race with short notice and sickness.
A huge hug to Melanie and Bryce Thatcher, our hosts and tour guides for this adventure. They are the owners of UltrAspire, my most favorite hydration packs (and now running lights) in the world. I am also thankful that Altra shoes were invented because now my feet are finally happy. So I’ll be able to see when I’m 93, I grab my Julbo sunglasses for all my races. And thank you, thank you, thank you to Horst Engineering. My biggest supporter of all!
To read about Scott’s crewing version of the race go here.